Law Firm Gives Helping Hand
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
- Organization: The Journal Record
Law Firm Gives Helping Hand
by Marie Price
The Journal Record
Tim Carney of the law firm of Gable
Gotwals in Tulsa (photo by Rip Stell)
OKLAHOMA CITY – Some of the young pediatric patients at the clinic in the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa Schusterman Center suffer from more than just the medical condition or illness that brought their families to the facility.
Karen Langdon, pro bono coordinator for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, said children may have social problems in their lives that contribute to their illnesses, ranging from homes with mold problems to stress-related issues whose effects present themselves through sickness, disabilities and others that accompany the basic problem of poverty. She said some need alternative education plans or special education, with others coming from families with housing and landlord issues or the need for grandparent guardianships.
Over the past year or so, Legal Aid has operated a grant-funded special legal clinic to help the children and their families.
Langdon said that as of June, Legal Aid attorney Adrienne Watt had worked with more than 100 clients through the program.
“That’s usually the parents of a child, but the child is helped by that too,” said Langdon.
When the need became overwhelming, Langdon approached the Gable Gotwals law firm about establishing a pro bono project to help provide services to more families.
Attorney Tim Carney is spearheading the project for the law firm.
“We were more than excited to get involved, and look forward to it,” said Carney. “We had been working with Karen Langdon and her predecessors for a long time at Legal Aid and providing a number of attorneys who took on pro bono matters.”
Carney said firm attorneys expect to tackle many types of legal issues, depending upon families’ needs.
“It could be anything from a financial, debtor-creditor issue, a lease obligation somebody might have, a bankruptcy or something like that, to domestic work,” he said. “In some instances, I think there may be some work associated with disabled children, disabled patients, accommodations for individuals at work, at school or in social services and things like that.”
Watt said some of her most frequent cases involve grandparents needing to become legal guardians.
“We know that Oklahoma leads the county in the number of grandparents raising grandchildren,” she said.
Often, Watt said, the children involved have been living with their grandparents for months if not years.
“But, then they’re having trouble enrolling the child in school or getting health care, because they don’t have the legal authority behind it,” she said.
Watt also handles many types of landlord-related issues.
“I may get several referrals where the child’s health is at risk because the landlord is not making the repairs or doing the maintenance needed to keep it safe and livable,” she said. “That may range from severe insect infestation, maybe flooding, or it could be a backed-up sewer. It could be any number of things.”
Watt also becomes involved in situations requiring someone to advocate for a child needing special education services, to which they are entitled under federal law.
Watt said she tries to address situations informally, without litigation if possible, although family cases requiring documents such as protective orders or guardianships require a trip to the courthouse.
Carney said the 65-lawyer Gable Gotwals firm has the resources to help with a wide range of issues.
“It’s firm-wide,” he said. “We have applications of specific attorneys that want to work in specific areas. But the firm itself is going to be committed to provide whatever resources are necessary to help out.”
Carney said the project will also give the attorneys a chance to spread their legal wings.
“We have lawyers that their forte is being involved in multimillion-dollar transactions,” he said. “To step out of that and become involved with a custody issue or helping an individual who is in a bad situation in a lease or something like that would be refreshing for them and challenging. So, I think they’ll enjoy that opportunity.”